The New Muses Theatre is an independent, vagabond theatre group. Born in 2009, New Muses uses various Tacoma area theatres when those venues are dark.
Niclas Olson is the inspiration for this prolific, dynamic enterprise. Olson, a fine actor in his own right, is an equally fine director, set and costume designer.
August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie,” which takes place in 1888 Sweden, is New Muses’ current offering, at Dukesbay Theatre. This production is no exception to Olson’s talents.
The set is as the playwright would have wished it – natural and succinct. The center of the more-than-intimate 37-seat theatre with seats on all four sides reveals the kitchen of the manor house where Countess Julie lives with her widower father.
Bethany Bevier is stage manager and music supervisor. Olson is the one-man juggernaut who seemingly does everything else.
For the set, Olson has recreated a trapezoid-like slate brick floor in concentric circles, drawing the audience’s attention to the large kitchen table set in the middle of that circle where much of the action takes place. There is a long “cook” table up stage; a small standing wood stove down stage with two shelving units, juxtaposing up and down stage, acting as cupboards.
Julie is the spoiled offspring of a deceased, vindictive mother and a tyrannical father, who toys with the Count’s valet, Jean, with whom she is smitten, by encouraging his advances then degrading him for those romantic thoughts. Julie covets that which Jean has; namely an adventurous past life and the love of Kristin, the family cook.
This is the story of class mores – gentry versus servant. It is a story of manipulation – by both to the other. This is an evolution story of a life and death struggle and who – if anyone – wins that struggle.
“Miss Julie” is a wordy play but Olson deftly keeps the audiences’ interest by having his cast almost continually moving their positions on stage – with meaning. Each time Jean encounters the Count’s boots he has been given to polish, he seems to skirt around them as though they were actually the Count; when his master calls Jean on the kitchen speaking tube, Jean virtually melts into subservience.
The cast is small only three human actors and one canine.
Roxie makes her debut as Dianna, Julie’s pug bull. Roxie was made for the role; like an old trooper, she makes her entrances and exits perfectly and performs delightfully while on stage giving a bit of comic relief to a sometimes quite intense story.
Kelsey Harrison is the cook Kristin. Harrison goes about her chores in an efficient manner; she is in complete control of her kitchen and knows where everything is as though it were in her own home. Harrison’s bio emphasizes her musical theatre background; the actor’s excellent line delivery and reactions to her surroundings prove her prowess in straight roles.
Katelyn Hoffman plays Julie. Hoffman exudes the eagerness of a small child coupled with petulance and vindictiveness rounding out the perfect definition of her role. Her character is sadistic but when succumbing to her victim’s desires melts to putty.
Nick Spencer is Jean, the valet trying to climb out of his station at the expense of any and all he can con to do his bidding. Spencer turns in a strong performance in the role, switching from one persona to another with a forked tongue at the drop of a reputation.
Olson presents his 80-minute adaptation of “Miss Julie” as a one-act production with no intermission. Though Dukesbay is not air-conditioned, they do have fans in strategic locations to help with the heat; the company has also placed a free bottle of water on each seat for the audience’s relief.
The production is so smooth and intriguing, the time passes quickly. However, it is a short run; only two more weekends through July 19, with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2; there is a special 8 p.m. performance Thursday, July 16; tickets are only $10.
The Dukesbay Theater is at 508 Sixth Ave. in downtown Tacoma, above the Grand Cinema. There is limited parking and a two-story walk-up, but the experience is well worth it
Go to www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1668437 to make on-line reservations.
“Miss Julie” proves the ability of The New Muses company. The up-coming scheduled productions are for one-night only. Mark them on your calendar: August 2, a staged reading of “Sexual Perversity in Chicago;” August 9, a concert presentation of “The Three-penny Opera;” August 16 a stage reading of “9 Circles.”
All performances are at 7 p.m. at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 N. I Street just north of Division.